This month, we’d like to highlight the reflections of Dexter Hill-Schmick, who spoke at our “One Child at a Time” event on Valentine’s Day. As an Escuela alum, Escuela volunteer, and college-bound graduate, Dexter graced us with words about the powerful influence Escuela had on her life – as a student, a compassionate leader, and as a citizen of the world.
Good morning, everyone—my name is Dexter Hill-Schmick. I am a senior at Lakewood High School and a proud member of Escuela’s Class of 2012. I’m sure you all know why I’m here today; free food and an excuse to skip school. No, I’m just kidding. I agreed to be here today because I truly believe in the mission of Escuela de Guadalupe. I have seen the positive impact of their work play out in my life and the lives of my fellow graduates.
As a second-generation Argentine, it was very important to my mother that her children continue to be exposed to her heritage and her native language, and so my parents tried to find a school that would give us the opportunity to develop our bi-cultural identities—a school which, at the time, seemed impossible to find. There were few schools in the area that offered any kind of Spanish programming, let alone a completely dual-language curriculum, and so for a while my mother enrolled us in an Anglo public school while speaking Spanish to us at home. Our family lived in an English “outside world” and a Spanish “inside world”. But when I was four years old, our family was forced to give up our Spanish “inside world”.
My little brother was diagnosed with autism. Doctors, specialists, therapists, and social workers alike warned us of the disabilities my brother would grow into, and told us that we would be lucky if he developed a command of even one language. So, my parents made the difficult decision to give up Spanish in order to focus on teaching my brother the language that would be most helpful to him here in the United States. But my mother is a very strong and stubborn woman. Saddled with the knowledge that our continued bilingualism would depend almost entirely on the school where we were enrolled, she renewed her search for the perfect program. As if by fate—if not a miracle—she found Escuela de Guadalupe just a few months later.
During my time as a student at Escuela, I never realized that my school was different. I had recess, homework, friends, and teachers. I had playdates and projects, pencils and whiteboards. It wasn’t until I entered middle school that I understood just how special my elementary school experience was.
For one thing, I had a bilingual foundation much stronger than that afforded to many first-generation Americans. Not only was I surrounded by chatter and instruction in both Spanish and English, which reinforced my ability to communicate easily in either language, but I also had formal dual-instruction in reading and writing which widened my academic expressions. Today, being multilingual has enabled me to seize countless unique opportunities. My Spanish fluency stems almost completely from my time at Escuela, and while in hindsight my brother would have been fully capable being bilingual himself, I am so glad that I did not have to sacrifice my identity and my heritage as a result of his inaccurate prognosis. Supported by my time at Escuela, I have been able to stay in touch with my Abuela and my family in Argentina. And for that alone I am immensely grateful.
Even beyond gaining access to Escuela’s outstanding dual-language education, as a student I encountered the most amazing community of peers, parents, and staff. Despite having very positive middle school and high school experiences, I have been unable to find an environment as embracing and upstanding as the one I found during my time here. Escuela’s mission to develop compassionate leaders was not only deeply-rooted in our curriculum, but also modeled by our teachers and parents. We were taught from a very young age to not only see injustice, but to resist it; to speak out on behalf of the disadvantaged, to raise all people to the same standard of equality, and, when the time is right, to fight for that which we know is just. In Literature class we read about civil rights activists like Cesar Chavez, and on Sister Susan Swain Service Day we went out into the neighborhood to clean up the streets and parks, just as Diana did. In Content classes we would learn about the different nationalities that live in Colorado, and then our teachers would show us how to be accepting of differences and celebrate our diversity. In Math classes we would learn about multiplication tables and fractions, and I still have no idea how that is relevant to everyday life. This is the atmosphere of Escuela de Guadalupe. We, as Escuela students, as Escuela parents, and as Escuela staff were compassionate leaders then, we are compassionate leaders today, and we will be compassionate leaders always.
Though my time at Escuela ended in 2012, I carry the lessons I learned here with me and I try to live every day as the compassionate leader I was raised to be.
During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I took forensic speech and debate classes. During my junior year, I volunteered as a therapist at a summer camp for children and young adults with autism—helping them to explore their unique abilities and reach their full potential. During my senior year, I interned at the office of U.S. Congressman Perlmutter, where I presented the Congressman with a bill to protect immigrants from exploitation during the legalization process. And now, as I approach the end of my childhood and the beginning of the rest of my life, I have realized that my passions and my ambitions for change and progress can be traced back to my time at Escuela de Guadalupe. Someday, I hope to become a US diplomat to Argentina so that I can act as a bridge between these two beautiful, and sometimes broken, countries.
Now, I teach an after-school speech and debate class here at Escuela every Wednesday, as a way of coming full circle and giving back to the place that shaped me. I have rewritten this speech a thousand different times, a thousand different ways, and yet I still cannot find words to express my gratitude for Escuela. I can only hope that my motivation to return to this beautiful place and hopefully inspire future young leaders to reach their full potential shows you the indelible mark Escuela leaves on its graduates - because being an Escuela graduate has left a mark on my life. And if seeing me up on this stage today shows you just a sliver of the impact your presence and investment makes, then I’ve done what I came to do.
If I’m to leave you with a final thought, let it be this; I can’t predict what happens next. I can’t guarantee that I will be successful in all my endeavors, and I can’t be certain of the change that will take place during my lifetime. But I do know that no matter the hardship, and no matter the circumstance, armed with the lessons we learned here at Escuela de Guadalupe, my fellow Guadalupanos and I will face the future head-on, with courage and with love.